What is AIDS

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AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. AIDS was first reported in the United States in 1981 and has since become a major worldwide epidemic. It is caused by HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). By killing or damaging cells of the body's immune system, HIV progressively destroys the body's ability to fight infections and certain cancers. More than 900,000 cases have been reported in the United States since 1981. As many as 950,000 Americans may be infected with HIV, one-quarter of who are unaware of their infection. The epidemic is growing most rapidly among minority populations, and is a leading killer of AfricanAmerican males ages 25 to 44. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), AIDS affects nearly seven times more African Americans and three times more Hispanics than whites. In recent years, an increasing number of African-American women and children are being affected by HIV/AIDS. In 2003, two-thirds of U.S. cases in both women and children were among African American.

AIDS is caused by HIV. HIV is a virus that gradually attacks immune system cells. As HIV progressively damages

these cells, the body becomes more vulnerable to infections, which it will have difficulty in fighting off. It is at the point of very advanced HIV infection that a person is said to have AIDS. If left untreated, it can take around ten years before HIV has damaged the immune system enough for AIDS to develop. A person is diagnosed with AIDS when they have developed an AIDS related condition or symptom, called an opportunistic infection, or an AIDS related cancer. The infections are called ‘opportunistic’ because they take advantage of the opportunity offered by a weakened immune system. It is possible for someone to be diagnosed with AIDS even if they have not developed an opportunistic infection. AIDS can be diagnosed when the number of immune system cells in the blood of an HIV positive person drops below a certain level. Worryingly, many people think there is a ' cure ' for AIDS that make them feel safer, and perhaps take risks that they otherwise would not. However, there is still no cure for AIDS. The only way to stay safe is to be aware of how HIV is transmitted and how to prevent HIV infection. Although there is no cure for AIDS, HIV infection can be prevented. Those living with HIV can take antiretroviral drugs to prevent or delay the onset of AIDS. However, in many countries across the world access to prevention and treatment services is

limited. Global leaders have pledged to work towards universal access to HIV prevention and care, so that millions of deaths can be avoided.

Antiretroviral treatment can significantly prolong the lives of people living with HIV. Modern combination therapy is highly effective and someone with HIV who is taking treatment could live for the rest of their life without developing AIDS. An AIDS diagnosis does not necessarily equate to a death sentence. Many people can still benefit from starting antiretroviral therapy even once they have developed an AIDS defining illness. Better treatment and prevention for opportunistic infections have also helped to improve the quality and length of life for those diagnosed with AIDS. Treating some opportunistic infections is easier than others. Infections such as herpes zoster and candidiasis of the mouth, throat or vagina, can be managed effectively in most environments. On the other hand, more complex infections such as toxoplasmosis, need advanced medical equipment and infrastructure, which are lacking in many resource poor areas. It is also important that treatment is

provided for AIDS related pain, which is experienced by almost all people in the very advanced stages of HIV infection. Even though antiretroviral treatment can prevent the onset of AIDS in a person living with HIV, many people are still diagnosed with AIDS today. There are four main reasons for this. Initially, many resource-poor countries antiretroviral treatment is not widely available. Even in wealthier countries, such as America, many individuals are not covered by health insurance and cannot afford treatment. Next, some people who became infected with HIV in the early years of the epidemic before combination therapy was available, have subsequently developed drug resistance and therefore have limited treatment options. Generally, many people are never tested for HIV and only become aware they are infected with the virus once they have developed an AIDS related illness. These people are at a higher risk of mortality, as they tend to respond less well to treatment at this stage. Lastly, sometimes people taking treatment are unable to adhere to, or tolerate the side effects of drugs.

In the later stages of AIDS, a person will need palliative care and emotional support. In many parts of the world, friends, family and AIDS organasations provide home based care. This is particularly the case in countries with high HIV

prevalence and overstretched healthcare systems. End of life care becomes necessary when a person has reached the very final stages of AIDS. At this stage, preparing for death and open discussion about whether a person is going to die often helps in addressing concerns and ensuring final wishes are followed.

Around 2.7 million people became infected with HIV in 2010. Sub-Saharan Africa has been hardest hit by the epidemic in 2010 over two-thirds of AIDS deaths were in this region. The epidemic has had a devastating impact on societies, economies and infrastructures. In countries most severely affected, life expectancy has been reduced by as much as 20 years. Young adults in their productive years are the most at-risk population, so many countries have faced a slow-down in economic growth and an increase in household poverty.

HIV and



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productivity than any other disease. An adult's most productive years are also their most reproductive and so many of the age group who had died from AIDS had left children behind. In sub-Saharan Africa the AIDS epidemic

has orphaned nearly 15 million children. In recent years, the response to the epidemic has been intensified from 20022008 spending on HIV and AIDS in low and middle-income countries increased 6-fold. Since 2008, spending has not increased so substantially, but it is still significantly higher than it was before 2002. The number of people on antiretroviral treatment has increased, the annual number of AIDS deaths has declined, and the global percentage of people infected with HIV has stabilised.








complacent attitudes. In all parts of the world, people living with HIV still face AIDS related stigma and discrimination, and many people still cannot access sufficient HIV treatment and care. In Eastern Europe infection rates are rising, and in Western Europe and America there are still tens of thousands of new infections each year, indicating that HIV prevention is just as important now as it ever has been.

Prevention efforts that have proved to be effective need to be scaled-up and treatment targets reached. Commitments from national governments right down to the community level need to be intensified and subsequently met, so that one day

the world might see an end to the global AIDS epidemic. "It is bad enough that people are dying of AIDS, but no one should die of ignorance. " by Elizabeth Taylor. Source : www.avert.org

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